What about us?

We often plough so much energy into the big picture, we forget the pixels.

Construction is a huge industry, and a hugely diverse one, with myriad roles and mini-sectors within in it. We all know that. But sometimes it’s easy to forget it.

The UK construction industry isn’t just about manufacturing products and using them to build skyscraper office-blocks, million-pound hospitals, academy-trust schools or swathes of ‘executive homes’. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

The UK construction industry, gigantic and all that, has some serious issues, partly related to its size and structure, partly related to economics and partly related to government (the planning system, basically). But sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

The UK construction industry includes a multi-million pound sector that exists to break bulk, hold stock, provide credit and supply materials to site in timely fashion and manageable loads. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that.

The Construction Products Association covers the whole industry and its members are made up of companies and organisations from all sectors, so it’s understandable that it has to take a macro-economic view of things. Dr Diana Montgomery, the out-going CEO of the association talked at the Annual Spring Lunch last week of an industry in disarray, broken supply chains and the urgent need for off-site manufacturing.  Nick Raynsford, the guest speaker, also talked about the need to ratchet-up of-site manufacturing, modern methods of construction and quite a lot about the Jarndycean infrastructure project that is the Crossrail project.

However, maybe the view needs to be even more macro. The biggest picture of all shows that there’s a sector that is helping building material manufacturers deliver their goods to site that is doing pretty well. Let’s face it, there are parts of the construction sector that are never really going to be suitable for off-site, factory assembly. Mrs Jones’ renovated porch, I suppose, could be made in a factory and delivered more or less assembled ready to be slotted together on site. But how would that be delivered? The further away from the factory that Mrs Jones lives, the less economical it is to deliver the factory-built porch. And that’s always supposing that Mrs Jones lives somewhere that an articulated lorry can access. An artic can’t get up my road, but my local builders merchants’ lorry can.

Builders merchants are there to smooth the supply chain, ensuring that manufacturers’ products can get to where they need to be, when they need to be there, making a decent margin as they do so.

I do get that there are on-going problems with parts of the supply chain between certain parts of the industry. However, it’s probably not really that helpful to focus upon ‘broken supply chains’, ‘off-site manufacturing’ and ‘factory-assembled buildings’ when around a third of your audience sitting listening is made up of builders merchants.

As my 11 year-olds would say: hashtag awkward.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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